GA Voice - - Outspoken -

The me­te­oric rise of Chris Kelly has as­tounded a host of en­ter­tain­ment ob­servers and crit­ics. He’s gone from be­ing a writer for the since-can­celled satir­i­cal news show “The Onion News Network” to sit­ting at the draw­ing board of Lorne Michaels’ late night be­he­moth “Satur­day Night Live,” giv­ing life to time­less sketches like The Bey­gency and the hilarious US pres­i­den­tial de­bate cold opens. Just last month, Kelly was pro­moted to the post of co-head writer for “SNL,” mak­ing him the first openly gay head writer be­hind one of the might­i­est bas­tions in comedy.

The 33-year-old Sacra­mento, Calif. screen­writer is also mak­ing a big splash in the world of cinema with his di­rec­to­rial de­but “Other Peo­ple.” Star­ring “SNL” alum Molly Shan­non and Jesse Ple­mons, this dram­edy, which pre­miered at this year’s Sun­dance Film Fes­ti­val, is loosely based on Kelly and his late mother — and it is wow­ing crit­ics and film lovers alike. Shan­non is also be­ing lauded for her per­for­mance as Joanne, a wife and mother of three suf­fer­ing from cancer. There’s al­ready plenty of rum­blings out there of her po­ten­tially land­ing on the short list of Os­car nods.

At­lanta will get its chance to see the ac­claimed film at the 29th an­nual Out On Film Fes­ti­val, where pro­gram­mers have se­lected it as the Oct. 6 clos­ing night film. In my con­ver­sa­tion with the tal­ented writer/direc­tor, we dis­cuss his new post at “SNL,” the mak­ing of “Other Peo­ple” and the im­por­tance of LGBT film fes­ti­vals like Out On Film. “SNL,” mak­ing you the first ever openly gay writer to be in that post. How ex­cited are you about that?

It’s ex­cit­ing to be the head writer and it is a huge com­pli­ment. I know I wanna do a good job per­son­ally and for Lorne [Michaels] and the show, so it’s a huge honor and I’m very flat­tered and ex­cited. I hope I’ll do a good job.

“Other Peo­ple” pre­miered at Sun­dance, a feat that’s al­most im­pos­si­ble for most first­time film di­rec­tors. Were you at all sur­prised by it be­ing picked up by Sun­dance?

Oh yeah! I had no ex­pec­ta­tions. It was a huge sur­prise. When I wrote the script four or five years ago, I never had any in­ten­tion that it would get made, so ev­ery step of the process was very ex­cit­ing. The very fact that ac­tors were gonna do it, and then pro­duc­ers got on board, and we got to shoot it, and then it turned out well, and then Sun­dance — ev­ery step was such a huge, cool sur­prise.

A lot of peo­ple are al­ready talk­ing about Molly Shan­non be­ing an Os­car con­tender. What are your thoughts on that?

All of the attention and the write-ups she’s been get­ting for her per­for­mance are so lovely, be­cause she’s in­cred­i­ble. I knew from day one... that she was go­ing to give an in­cred­i­ble per­for­mance. And so it’s so cool now for other peo­ple to be see­ing her and in that sense, agree­ing.

What prompted you to write a screen­play loosely based on you and your mother?

The best way to put it is it’s not 100 per­cent au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal, by any means. Ba­si­cally, the core of the movie is about my mother and the time I spent with her. When I wrote the script, I re­flected back on that time and I wasn’t try­ing to do a scene-byscene re-cre­ation that year. There are some things that are true-ish and there are some things that are fully made up. So I think peo­ple should look at the movie less as a documentary about my life and more of a fic­tional ver­sion of some true things about my mom and what she taught me.

How dif­fi­cult was it for you to blend comedy and this level of drama to­gether for the fea­ture?

It wasn’t too hard, just that I was writ­ing from what I know and writ­ing from a per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence of be­ing home with my mom. My mom was funny, so was my fam­ily, and a lot about that year was funny. It wasn’t sad 24-7.

Re­liv­ing your mom’s pass­ing while writ­ing, di­rect­ing and shoot­ing this film, Out On Film presents ‘Other Peo­ple’

Thurs­day, Oct. 6 at 8:30 p.m. Land­mark Mid­town Art Cinema www.ou­t­on­

was this like a mo­ment of emo­tional heal­ing for you?

I guess the an­swer is yes and no. Peo­ple have asked me this be­fore: Was this cathar­tic? And I don’t per­son­ally feel like I had demons that I needed to get un­der con­trol by writ­ing this movie (laughs). Ob­vi­ously there were a lot of hard days on the set while recre­at­ing some of the sad­der mo­ments of that ex­pe­ri­ence, but it was sort of nice and lovely. The cast was so great, the crew and my pro­duc­ers were so sup­port­ive. It was a nice way to re­mem­ber my mom and to put some of the things she taught me on screen.

How im­por­tant is it for LGBT film fes­ti­vals like Out On Film to ex­ist to­day?

I think it’s in­cred­i­bly im­por­tant. Just the very fact that they show­case sto­ries that may not be show­cased oth­er­wise. Ob­vi­ously there are some LGBT movies that also play at non-LGBT-cen­tric film fes­ti­vals, but the more, the bet­ter. We need more sto­ries and more sto­ry­telling. There’s also a nice sense of com­mu­nity.

“Other Peo­ple,” star­ring Jesse Ple­mons and Molly Shan­non, closes the Out On Film fes­ti­val on Thurs­day, Oct. 6. (Cour­tesy photo)

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